Academic Conference with UN-ACT on Irregular Migration, Asylum and Human Trafficking

UN-ACT is partnering with the Social Science Division and the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University for an academic conference to be held in Bangkok in June 2017. The theme of the event is Irregular Migrants, Refugees or Victims of Human-Trafficking? Analysis, Advocacy and Assistance between Categorizations and (Self-)Identifications.

Migration, displacement and human trafficking have become staples of headline news. Reactions range – and sometimes change – from outrage over abuse and sympathy for individuals and groups seen as victims, to open hostility towards those perceived as alien intruders or threats to security, political, cultural and business interests.

Where international instruments of varying age and origin provide a set of at times overlapping categorizations, policy-makers and public discourse often look for clear classifications and impose mutually exclusive labels on groups and individuals, whose circumstances are complex, diverse and not always well understood. Such categorical overlaps, however, may be exploited at the expense of the individuals concerned. It is hardly surprising then that persons caught in this legal and conceptual web prove at times wary of the labels offered to or imposed upon them.

Further, aid agencies and organizations working in the areas of migration, displacement, and human trafficking cannot avoid the contest over categorizations and classifications either. Legal definitions help shape opportunities for and conditions of assistance while public perceptions associated with different terms impact on available funds. Donors of aid programs expect accountability, which requires clear classifications of those provided with assistance. But actual needs for assistance may cut across rigid differentiations between economic migrants, refugees or victims of human-trafficking.

Finally, in receiving communities these people may face hostility because they are seen as illegal migrants, economic refugees, or queue jumpers.

The response to migration, displacement, and human trafficking is thus in part contingent upon conceptual schemes and classifications and at the same time impacts upon them. It is this interdependence and the challenges resulting from it that are the focus of the workshop. We invite:

  • conceptual studies,
  • reports on empirical research,
  • and reflection papers by practitioners

in the areas of migration, displacement, human-trafficking and related forms of exploitation in the wider Southeast Asian region.

Papers may address, but are not limited to, the following questions:

  • How do individuals respond to labels such as migrant, refugee, victim of human trafficking or slave applied or available to them? What motivates these responses?
  • How and to what extent can individuals assert their own agency and express their own views of their circumstances in the face of categorizations and classifications by public discourse, state authorities, or aid agencies?
  • How are public perceptions shaped and articulated in relation to these labels?
  • How are government and non-government service providers impacted by such categories in their ability and willingness to extend services to different populations?
  • To what extent, and in what ways, are advocacy and assistance efforts shaped, enhanced or limited by categories in international and national law, or the labels – and changes therein – dominant in public discourse?
  • How do problems of, and contests over, classifications impact the compilation of data on migration, displacement, human trafficking and related forms of exploitation?
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UN-ACT-Mahidol University Research Partnership

UN-ACT is partnering with the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP) at Mahidol University and People Serving People Foundation (PSPF) for a research project exploring the nexus between asylum and labour exploitation.

In preparation, UN-ACT and PSPF organized a 2-day training for around 15 students from IHRP touching upon international legislation on human trafficking and asylum, its application to concrete case studies, indicators of exploitation and human trafficking in a research context, as well as ethical and security considerations for data collection in highly sensitive environments.

The training also included testing the draft research tool and practicing interviewing through role-plays.

The students are now well-equipped for the pilot stage of data collection, which is set to commence shortly. Their experiences as part of this project will be garnered and shared with peers, helping to increase awareness on human trafficking, asylum and the nexus between these among students and beyond.

The project is part of UN-ACT’s broader efforts to strengthen teaching and research on migration and exploitation at Universities across Southeast Asia. In a region that witnesses significant, and increasing, migratory patterns, it is key for societies to educate professionals and academics alike that are equipped to shape and respond to the opportunities and challenges that these create.

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COMMIT SOM 11 in Vientiane, Lao PDR Concluded

The latest Regional COMMIT Task Force (TF) and Senior Officials Meeting (SOM 11) took place in Vientiane, Lao PDR on 23 and 24 November 2016.

The meeting brought together the leadership of the national TFs from each of the 6 COMMIT members (Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam), UN-ACT as the COMMIT Secretariat, other UN agencies and international organizations such as ASEAN, the diplomatic community and donor agencies including Norway and Sweden as UN-ACT’s key contributors, civil society stakeholders and the COMMIT Youth Forum as well as private sector actors.

On the agenda were COMMIT sustainability and capacity development; victim identification and referral mechanisms; engagement with youth, civil society, ASEAN and the private sector; monitoring and reporting progress of SPAIV implementation; and 2017 work planning.

Key outcomes included the adoption of the common ASEAN-COMMIT indicators of human trafficking and related forms of exploitation as well as the COMMIT Guidelines on Victim Identification and Referral Mechanisms. Both are designed to help significantly improve victim identification in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) and ensure that those identified receive adequate support services. The next step will be to localize and operationalize the indicators and guidelines in national contexts.

In another major decision, the COMMIT governments unanimously agreed to make strengthening labour migration systems in the GMS a priority for interventions in 2017, thereby recognizing the fundamental connectedness between human trafficking and labour migration, especially in Southeast Asia.

The government delegates also decided to introduce an annually rotating COMMIT Chair, to be performed by the country hosting the SOM and working alongside UN-ACT to represent COMMIT externally whilst giving guidance and direction internally. This will help strengthen governmental ownership over COMMIT in the interest of the Process’ long-term sustainability.

With the end of 2016 approaching, those involved in the COMMIT Process will now proceed with work planning for 2017, based on the decision points reached at the Vientiane meeting. UN-ACT is looking forward to supporting the Process in implementing the various important agreements reached.

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Regional Network Meeting

Non-governmental, United Nations and academic stakeholders from across Southeast and East Asia came together for an action-packed day focused around counter-trafficking in Bangkok on 30 September.

The program kicked off with a half-day workshop on applying a Communication for Development (C4D) approach to human trafficking prevention interventions, facilitated by our partners from IOM X.

In the afternoon, IOM X and UN-ACT co-chaired the quarterly Regional Network Meeting, this time with a thematic focus on ‘Shifting attitudes as part of a comprehensive behaviour change approach to counter-trafficking’. The panel discussion saw initial presentations from the ILO, Love Frankie and Rapid Asia, and highlighted the importance of time, inclusivity and a culturally adopted approach in bringing about changes to behaviour.

A session on programming updates allowed partners to present to each other their last quarter of implementation as well as plans going forward, with a particular focus on identifying synergies and opportunities for collaborations between those present.

Finally, discussions on ‘latest trends and developments in human trafficking’ raised advocacy efforts, or the lack thereof, for the ratification of the ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children as well as support for the preparations towards implementation. The group also discussed the nexus between sex work and human trafficking, with a special focus on the notion of ‘consent’ and the complexities around that.

The day ended at the launch of the latest issue of the After Trafficking Review on ‘Trafficking Representations’ at the FCCT in Bangkok. The GAATW-supported publication scrutinizes the often simplistic solutions to a complex phenomenon, as presented by the media, policymakers and humanitarian debates, without challenging the structural and causal factors of inequality underpinning human trafficking.

Around 40 participants from a variety of different organizations attended the Regional Network Meeting – some from Cambodia, Myanmar, Hong Kong, or even the United States – suggesting a growing interest in the forum that seeks to ensure a more coordinated and collaborative response to human trafficking across the region.

If you are working on human trafficking-related issues from a regional perspective in Southeast/East Asia and you would like to attend the Regional Network Meeting, don’t hesitate to drop us a note at unact@undp.org.

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COMMIT Workshop on Victim Identification and Referral Mechanisms

Governmental and non-governmental stakeholders from all 6 COMMIT member states, i.e. Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam, have come together in Bangkok, Thailand for a 2-day workshop titled COMMIT Victim Identification and Referral Mechanisms: Developing Common Guidelines on 25 and 26 October.

The accurate and timely identification of victims of trafficking and the provision of needed support services are vital to counter-trafficking efforts. The COMMIT Governments have identified this as a key issue, and improving victim identification and protection services through referral mechanisms as a key objective to their multilateral and bilateral collaboration.

These frameworks have impacts across counter-trafficking efforts including: the ability of victims to be recognized and provided with effective support; the interest of victims in being formally identified; the possibility for law enforcement to gain evidence against traffickers; the ability to gather data on vulnerabilities to trafficking in persons; and to accurately understand the prevalence and forms of trafficking in persons.

Under the COMMIT Sub-regional Plan of Action IV (SPA IV: 2015-18), the Governments have agreed to the following outcomes and outputs in the area of victim protection:

Outcome 4.1: Victims of Trafficking are Identified

  • Output 4.1.1: Standardised regional identification procedures, based on commonly agreed indicators of potential trafficking cases, agreed, implemented and reviewed

Outcome 4.2: Victims of trafficking in persons receive appropriate protection and rights-based assistance

  • Output 4.2.1 : National referral mechanisms to support victims of trafficking operationalized
  • Output 4.2.2: Victims of Trafficking receive protection and assistance both in country of destination and in their country of origin

At the regional COMMIT Taskforce meeting in February 2016, the 6 Governments agreed that victim identification frameworks and referral mechanisms were a priority for the COMMIT Process.

This follows the agreement of joint victim identification indicators at an ASEAN-COMMIT workshop in Malaysia in December 2015, the first formal initiative between ASEAN and COMMIT. The victim identification indicators are the first step in helping first responders to trafficking in persons identify more possible victims of trafficking who may then be referred to the relevant authority for initial assistance and ultimately formal identification purposes.

As a result of these developments, the Lao Government has proposed that the COMMIT Senior Officials Meeting 11 (SOM11) to be hosted in Lao PDR on 24 November 2016 focus on victim identification and referral mechanisms. Preparation for this will draw together the COMMIT governments’ experiences and commitments on this issue, and engage in consultations to develop agreed guidelines for COMMIT countries.

Recognising that policy developments and guidelines require commitment to implement, it is also intended that implementation indicators are developed to review progress against the objectives set.

The goal of the 2-day workshop is hence to develop such common COMMIT guidelines and indicators on victim identification and referral mechanisms for implementation under the COMMIT SPAIV, to be endorsed by the SOM11 in Lao PDR in November 2016.

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‘How the lack of protection for persons displaced by climate change increases their vulnerability to exploitation and human trafficking’: The latest Blog

We have published the latest blog, ‘How the lack of protection for persons displaced by climate change increases their vulnerability to exploitation and human trafficking’.

In this piece, Jenna Klein, J.D. Candidate at the School of Law, University of California, Berkeley, discusses the shortcomings in the current international legal framework in providing protection to the increasing number of people displaced by the effects of climate change, and analyzes how these leave such populations more vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking.

You can access the blog by visiting our forum or clicking on this link.

What do you think about the blog? And what are your thoughts on the nexus between climate change and human trafficking?

We would be happy to hear from you! You can comment directly in response to our blog!…

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UN-ACT Quarter 3 2016 Newsletter

Click on UN-ACT Quarter 3 2016 Newsletter for all the latest information on human trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. For an email-based version of the newsletter that is easier to manage and comes with an improved layout, please subscribe to our mailing list at the bottom of the website.…

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New in ‘Research’: A UN-ACT Study on Forced Marriage between Cambodia and China

UN-ACT is pleased to release its new research report, Human Trafficking Vulnerabilities: A Study on Forced Marriage between Cambodia and China. The study primarily draws on the accounts of 42 Cambodian women who experienced conditions of forced marriage in China, with interviews having taken place in both countries. Key informants from government and non-government stakeholders in Cambodia and China were consulted as well.

The report analyzes recruitment, brokering, transportation and exploitation patterns as well the links between these; determines service needs among Cambodians trafficked to China for forced marriage, in China, during the repatriation process and upon return to Cambodia; and identifies opportunities for interventions to prevent forced marriages from occurring and to extend protective services to those in need, at both policy and programming levels.

Whilst anecdotal evidence suggests that some, perhaps many, of the Cambodian women living in arranged marriages in China appear content in their situations, the research project was conducted in response to the increasing number of identified cases of forced marriage between the two countries.

In Cambodia, a lack of jobs and low wages result in many young women looking for opportunities outside their home country. In China, an unusually high gender imbalance derived primarily from more than 30 years of one-child policy coupled with gender selection due to son preferences creates a demand for women in marriageable age. There are hence significant push- and pull-factors for marriage migration between the two countries, however both sides prohibit international marriage brokerage and thus force potential migrants to enlist the services of irregular agents operating without transparency and oversight.

The downsides of such lack of control over brokers are well-documented in the report. Respondents were both deceived and coerced into marriage by agents to varying degrees. Some came to China for the purpose of work and only later found out that they had to get married instead. Others were told that they needed to get married in order to find work in China, which is inaccurate as marriage doesn’t grant employment opportunities for foreigners in China for a minimum of 5 years. Further, the conditions of marriage proved to be significantly different to what was originally discussed.

Confiscated passports; withheld food; restricted communication and freedom of movement; and threats of having to repay travel costs to China ranging from around US$2,000 – $8,000 all served to coerce women into marriages with Chinese men. These factors were compounded by their visa status, in that respondents had typically and unknowingly entered China on tourist visas with a validity of 1 month and only found out after their arrival that marriage was the only opportunity for longer-term stays.

It is hence a key recommendation to the two countries to establish regular, well-monitored migration channels including for marriage. Given strong and persistent push- and pull-factors, current restrictions only serve to make migrants who continue to move to China for marriage purposes more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Published by UN-ACT with support from Ratanak International and the Governments of Australia, Norway and Sweden, the report is intended to assist the countries involved in the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking (COMMIT: Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam) to more effectively counter human trafficking.…

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‘Human Trafficking in Thai Criminal Law – A Crime against the State or a Crime against the Person?’: The latest Blog

We have published the latest blog, ‘Human Trafficking in Thai Criminal Law – A Crime against the State or a Crime against the Person?’

In this piece, Thomas Harré, PhD Candidate at the School of Law, University of Melbourneanalyzes the approach to the crime of human trafficking in Thai criminal law, and discusses the merits of viewing it as a crime against the state as done by some courts.

You can access the blog by visiting our forum or clicking on this link.

What do you think about the blog? And what are your thoughts on whether human trafficking constitutes a crime against the person or a crime against the state?

We would be happy to hear from you! You can comment directly in response to our blog!…

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UN-ACT on TV

The Thai Public Broadcasting Service, Thai PBS, has produced a 30-minute documentary on human trafficking in Nepal following the 2015 earthquake. The film also touches upon broader patterns of forced exploitation across Asia including vulnerabilities thereto, which UN-ACT provided an interview on. The full video can be found here, with UN-ACT’s contributions featuring at 6:53 min, 8:27 min and 19:42 min. Enjoy watching!…

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